Monday, October 24, 2011

A Time for Reflection

I'll be working on a sort of self-exploratory essay these next couple days about birding, be it a hobby or a lifestyle, and its socio-political ramifications. In the mean time, I have been reviewing all of my photographic work to date, and have reposted here some of my most successful or fondest photographic experiences from this summer and fall.

This American Robin was the first bird I photographed with my nifty new camera. Knowing absolutely nothing, I went outside and starting snapping away in my then fiance's backyard. I still think the bird's pose and the rough fence make for a well-composed picture, even if there are things I'd try to change now.

This Catbird was the second bird I photographed. It was at almost the same location as the Robin, though I was at a different angle. Again, I was very lucky to have good lighting and a close subject, because this was still in the old days of simple point and click. I still think this is actually one of the best pictures I've taken. At this point, I might've started thinking photography was easy. File that thought away under "cringe-ably wrong". 

Towards the end of August I had a very surreal encounter with this Red-Tail Hawk at the Indian Steele Park in central Phoenix. I was just wandering around when he swooped in and decided to stop for a drink at the little drainage ditch running through the park. He had a powerful stare.

This Green Heron also provided for one of those "can't-believe-my-luck" moments. I wasn't expecting much in way of good birding at the barren little Grenada Park, and then this Heron came into my world (or I into his more likely). This is probably the first (and to date one of the only)  in-flight shots I've gotten of a bird. I really like how the feathers on his back trail out like hair. It was neat to see the Green Heron at full stretch too; usually they're so compact and humble.

This Greater Roadrunner provided me with the sort of photographic opportunity I'd never otherwise hope for. Why he decided to just hop up on this tree and show me his lunch I do not know, but I certainly appreciated it.

This female Black-Throated Gray Warbler was a Life Bird for me, and was also the first good photographic experience I had with a Warbler. If I could do it over, I'd put in some negative exposure compensation, but this was still a great and confidence building encounter.

It's the way things go with birding. Once you see a new bird, you see it all over. That wasn't exactly the case here, but only a few days after seeing the Black-Throated, I saw my first and second Townsend's Warblers as they were passing through to Mexico.

The Gila Woodpecker is an iconic bird of Arizona, in many ways even more prominent than the Cactus Wren. I had been frustrated for a while trying to photograph them, and then one day while I was sitting and reviewing the day's earlier photos, this gentleman came and sat on the one sunny spot next to me in a mesquite tree. His red was showing and he hadn't a care in the world. Magical!

This Elf Owl was a totally unexpected and outstanding find at the Desert Botanical Gardens one  Saturday morning. The Elf Owl is one of the birds I'd never really ever expected or hoped to see; with it being small, uncommon, still, and crepuscular, it just wasn't on my horizon. And yet here it was, taking a sunny snooze and paying me no mind as I gawked and gawked. I was incredulous when I first saw it. There's no good way to see the scale in the picture other than my mentioning that the bird's perch was maybe the width of a drumstick. It couldn't have been more than 6 inches tall. So cool!

Watching this Verdin eat her dinner has been one of my favorite photo-ops so far. The lighting was great, and she brought such a medley of colors together. The different shades of gray, the yellow, the slightly visible red on the shoulders, the green and the cobalt blue all made for a great photo shoot.

It's pretty easy to find the resident Cactus Wrens at the Desert Botanical Gardens, and given their acclimation to people, it's not much more difficult to take their picture. It was really nice to get one in a nice setting though--not on the sidewalk or a trash can--and have some color to match its dauntless attitude.

I see more Harris's Hawks in Phoenix than any other bird of prey. I still find them to be pretty visually impressive, with their dark bodies, ruddy shoulders, and the white at the base and tip of their tails. I've taken lots of Harris's pictures, but the sort of distant, powerful, and thoughtful expression captured here is pretty neat and I haven't had it replicated yet elsewhere. It's like he's looking over his shoulder to keep an eye on me, but doesn't want to actually make eye contact or focus on me too much, because he's thinking about higher things (like eating small animals).

It's always funny to see bird tongues. Do you think that Sparrow tongue can taste anything?

The Pied-Billed Grebe photos were satisfying not so much for the photographic quality, but because they vindicated a long and determined stakeout I made to get close enough in the first place. I haven't had much luck approaching Grebes, so here I sat and waited for them to slowly make their way all around the pond while I sat in ambush, and was able to share in their minnow-massacring world for a few exciting minutes.

This Willet was another Life Bird I saw on the San Diego shore. It was  pretty dull gray over its body, but when it spread its wings and ran along the shallows, it presented me with a very cool spread of symmetrical black and white. From time to time I'm reminded of how truly marvelous the bird wing is. So much power and grace of motion is folded so delicately into such a relatively small space, ready to burst forth at any moment and take the bird wherever it wants to go. Bird wings are folded freedom--much better than origami.

I'm not exactly sure why I like this picture so much. In its fall plumage this Yellow Warbler is not near its colorful potential, and it's just giving the sort of standard bird-on-a-stick pose to the viewer. I guess it's the roundness and softness of the bird, which goes so well with the muted yellow. By all rights this is still a beautiful bird, and I'm trying to make myself appreciate fall warblers more. Between the two of us, I'm probably the more insecure.

No photo collage of Phoenix birds would be complete without that noisy and invasive species the Rosy-Faced Lovebird. They're seen and heard all over the valley, but they're just so durned cute and fluffy they never get tiring (nor do they get tired). The Arizona desert has more than its fair share of drab birds. I think it's great that the Lovebirds are bringing more and more color to the valley of the sun.